Gülen says ballot box is not everything in a democracy

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Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has inspired the popular civic and social movement called Hizmet, said the ballot box is not everything, urging his followers to not stick to only one but to cast their votes freely based on their personal conviction.

“Of course the ballot box holds a crucial importance for the future of this country; but it is not everything,” he said, adding that focusing on the ballot box only makes some people comfortable in telling lies.

As for the question on which party he would support, Gülen said he has always asked his friends to cast their votes based on their personal conviction. “I believe that asking them to vote for a certain party is a type of pressure; in addition, I also consider engagement with a certain party isolation from other segments of society,” he explained.

Gülen signaled, however, that his supporters would not be voting for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), whose chairman, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, constantly throws around insults.

“If a person internalizes and acknowledges such grave accusations and insults, he or she may still vote for that party; but I believe that these remarks which would be hurtful to anybody have also been hurtful to our friends,” Gülen noted.

He cautioned, however, that the candidates are more important than the parties in local elections and as such some of his supporters may see some AK Party candidates deserving their support.

“Whatever party you vote for, you will not have committed a sin,” Gülen remarked.

Commenting on speculations over whether he will return to Turkey, Gülen said he will decide about whether or not to return to Turkey after consulting with friends he trusts. He signaled that the threat for him is not over in Turkey, saying that “those who aspire to seize power despotically upon growing stronger and to never abandon it start to see as a danger those who don’t nurture aspirations for power.”

“They try to portray these people as a threat to the state, but they essentially perceive them as a threat to their plans,” he underlined.

Drawing lessons from the past during which important figures suffered and were prosecuted and persecuted, Gülen said troubles are only temporary and asked his supporters to remain patient.

As for the exit strategy from the current turmoil Turkey has been experiencing, the Islamic scholar advised that the country needs a new climate.

“A new constitution is a must to guarantee fundamental rights and freedoms. I believe there should be growing popular demand and pressure on the relevant figures and institutions so that they will make a democratic constitution based on the recognition of universal legal principles,” he explained.

Gülen also warned that “a Turkey which moves away from its own values and people will also move away from the world.”

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Only days are left until the elections. There are debates on what party the movement will support.

I cannot see it as proper for Muslims to talk about this all the time and think that the ballot box is the real meaning of life. Of course the ballot box holds a crucial importance for the future of this country; but it is not everything. It is impossible not to become upset realizing that focusing on the ballot box only makes some people comfortable in telling lies. As for the debate on who we should vote for, I have always asked my friends to cast their votes based on their personal conviction. I believe that asking them to vote for a certain party is a type of pressure; in addition, I also consider engagement with a certain party isolation from other segments of society. Our clear and plain stance in the referendum was not for a certain party; it was for the introduction of democratic steps. It appears that this stance is not being appreciated.

There is now a party chairman who constantly throws around insults. And, unfortunately, the wise men of that party prefer deep silence. With the exception of strong partisans, I have frequently noticed that the AK Party support base is upset with this. If a person internalizes and acknowledges such grave accusations and insults, he or she may still vote for that party; but I believe that these remarks which would be hurtful to anybody have also been hurtful to our friends. Everyone will consider their own situation and analyze the mayoral candidates. In the end, this is not a general election. The candidates are more important than the parties; there are many valuable candidates in all parties. Whatever party you vote for, you will not have committed a sin.

Speculations abound regarding your stay in the US and about whether you will return to Turkey. Can you comment on this matter?

I wanted to think well of those who had asked me to return. Similar calls had previously been made. Regarding these calls, I could sense the real intention. But I continue to stick to courtesy and a positive attitude toward believers. First and foremost, I am just a believer among many believers. I have always kept my feet on the ground. This is the way I have lived my life. In my opinion, the highest station one can attain is to be a true servant of God. It is my wish to die in this station. I have no connection or ties to any external power, force or group. Such a thing is out of question. Those caught in the web of external powers, forces or groups are those who run after prosperity, power and other worldly stations or posts. Unfortunately, those who aspire to seize power despotically upon growing stronger and to never abandon it start to see as a danger those who don’t nurture aspirations for power and who even specifically refrain from such pursuits with a focus on how to attain God’s contentment and His bliss in the Hereafter. They try to portray these people as a threat to the state, but they essentially perceive them as a threat to their plans.

Even in the most underdeveloped societies, people are tried for their words and acts and verdicts are passed about them based on what they say or do. People and authorities know and have observed my acts and words for the last 50 years. Is it possible for a person who has a secret agenda to conceal this agenda for 50 years?

I will decide about whether or not to return to Turkey not based on the convictions of some people but after consulting with friends whose intentions I find considerably sincere. As I said before, if I return, I will return not as someone else but as I am — as the son of Ramiz Efendi who served as the imam of the Üç Şerefeli Cami [mosque].

You have for some time now stopped delivering sermons over the Internet. Those affiliated with the movement wonder about your sentiments under such strong pressure and insults. Is there anything you would like to tell them?

We have to remain patient in the face of what is happening to us. We should never abandon our lenient and decent style. People have suffered from different problems in different periods. Important figures such as Imam Rabbani, Hasan al-Shadhili and Mawlana Baghdadi have suffered. The brutality and persecution Bediüzzaman was subjected to should be remembered. He was subjected to all sorts of brutality. We are not comparable to these remarkable people. But if this is their case and this is their method, then we need to be willing to take all sorts of sufferings. We should not resent. We need to pray to God all the time and tell Him, “We are content with God as our Lord, and with Islam as our religion, and with Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, as our Prophet.” We should never feel offended by the way He treats us. We should always be content with Him.

Troubles are temporary. If our communication and relationship with God is perfect, we will secure our afterlife even when we experience huge troubles. If they do not seek worldly advantages and assets, those who dedicate themselves to this cause will have eternal gains in the afterlife. Everybody should stay where they are. Depending on the circumstances and the conjuncture, different options should be tried to reach the destination even if they block the main road and options. That destination is universal human values. These people I referred to above were never pessimistic; so we should be like them. We should keep our hopes high. “Hopelessness is such a quagmire that if you fall into it, you will drown; but if you grab on to your resolution, you will be saved.” This is what Mehmet Akif [a renowned Turkish poet] says about hopelessness. We believe that this bleak weather and climate will eventually disappear. We have always held this hope.

You also referred to what I have been subjected to so far. I did not complete my military service when the May 27 [1960] coup was staged. I was persecuted then. I was persecuted in the March 12 [1971] coup. I had to run away like a bandit for six years during the Sept. 12 [1980] coup. Former President Turgut Özal exerted his authority at a time when he was feeling strong; so they left me alone. But this was not the end. I traveled to Mecca to perform the Hajj. Things were unpleasant for me once again. I gave a statement at a state security court. The legal case Prosecutor Nuh Mete Yüksel filed in the aftermath of Feb. 28 [the 1997 coup] lasted for years. Despite the denigration I was subjected to in that case, the chief prosecutor here in New Jersey showed me respect. He welcomed me at the door [to the building]. He helped me to the [witness] chair himself so that I could sit down. He then washed his own glass, filled it with water and offered it to me, telling me that my mouth may go dry given that I was testifying. I experienced this here. He did not know me at all. Then we discussed as to whether we should send him a gift for this gentle treatment. When I presented him a gift, he said he could not accept a gift from a person whose legal case he had handled. I said to myself that these people still survive despite all negative developments thanks to this legal philosophy. Because of this legal understanding, they still play an influential role in world politics.

I should also tell you that I was imprisoned during my military service because I was delivering sermons. A commander who was protecting me allowed me to deliver sermons, which he also attended. As he was preparing to leave our unit, he hugged me in tears and said I would face repression after he goes. And what he said came to be. They sent me to prison. I have also been subjected to different types of persecution and repression at different times. However, the things I am experiencing now are not comparable to what I experienced in the past. The lies, insults and denigrating remarks… But everyone reflects their own character in their attitudes and remarks. In the end, we cannot say anything to anybody.

A new constitution needed to exit from turmoil

Turkey is going through hard times. Sometimes people become pessimistic because of the ongoing turmoil. How, in your opinion, can Turkey get out of this atmosphere?

Above all, I should stress that in such times it is strongly necessary to pray to God and seek refuge in His mercy. We should be worried about the fate of those who are not worried about their fate. Those who feel content all the time and hold doubts about the faith of others will face a great danger from the religious perspective. ‘Umar [the second caliph] was concerned about his fate [despite being one of the 10 people who have been promised Paradise]. And so we should be worried about our fate. We need to seek refuge in His mercy and protection. We need to say, “O God, hold my hand. For if You do not, I will be doomed.” Like individuals, faith and submission are sanctuaries for communities as well. Those who do not seek refuge in this sanctuary may be crushed under their ego. May God protect us from this.

This is one side of the coin. The other side is as follows: In order to overcome the current turmoil, this country needs a new climate. A new constitution is a must to guarantee fundamental rights and freedoms. I believe there should be growing popular demand and pressure on the relevant figures and institutions so that they will make a democratic constitution based on the recognition of universal legal principles. Many intellectuals offer similar analyses. A Turkey which moves away from its own values and people will also move away from the world.

Today, individuals and societies have greater importance than their states. It is impossible to implement a project that is imposed on the people. At the beginning of this century, Bediüzzaman said predominance over the civilized is possible through persuasion, not coercion. Therefore, repression of people will not remain the same all the time. They cannot be permanent. We have to approach the events and developments via patience, prudence and caution. If you approach the developments via the patience and submission they deserve and deal with them as such, reason will dominate eventually. And when this happens, those who had engaged in sin before will feel embarrassed; and you open up your hearts noting that this is not a day of condemnation and making sure that they do not feel this way. This has been the case throughout history. If you are traveling in the opposite direction when people are moving away from you; the distance between you becomes larger. And the day you need union and cooperation you will realize that you have made a mistake. You realize this but it is too late. We need to think about nothing but committing ourselves to our service and duties. This is my humble opinion on this matter.

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